Twice a week, students from the Escuela Río Mashpi step out of the classroom and into the surrounding forest to visit the Bosque Escuela Pambiliño, a nature reserve, a food forest, and an educational center founded by Oliver Torres more than ten years ago in the heart of the Ecuadorian Chocó.
“We want the forest to be meaningful,” Oliver explains, “a space that facilitates real learning.” During their visit, students might stay working on art projects, making crafts with seeds or painting with natural dyes.
Another group may walk through the trails to collect seeds or work in the greenhouse. Others head to the kitchen and to prepare food with products gathered or harvested in the forest.
“They get to see how diverse this productive system is. It’s not monoculture, it looks a lot like the native forest,” Oliver says. The students also experiment with the ingredients and try out different parts of the process: making chocolate with the cacao that grows here or making jam from the fruits that they picked.
Nature, at the service of education
In the open air, the children have the space (both physically and pedagogically) to find their own motivation, and learn things about themselves that traditional classrooms don’t allow. They might be discovering science — learning about the water cycle at the local rivers, native plants in the brush, or climate change — but also learn how to explore the world for themselves.
“After coming to the forest school, the students are able to concentrate better… Without the hands-on experience, it’s hard to make that leap, you know, that moment when a child consciously says ‘Now I really do want to learn’.”
The forest school’s philosophy doesn’t just apply to children. In addition to working with the local school, it also focuses on educational programs directed towards adults. Pambiliño has been teaching farmers and local leaders for a decade, offers teacher trainings, and also hosts foreign university students who come for internships or to carry out scientific research.
With its interactive, immersive methodology, the forest school enables participants of all ages to develop a deeper sensibility towards the natural world, a sensibility that the whole community will need if they want to have a shot at conserving the increasingly-threatened Chocó ecosystem.
Oliver is hopeful that this approach can give people the tools that they need to make an impact: “When you come here, you see that it really is possible to change the way you live.”
BOSQUE ESCUELA PAMBILIÑO
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